Virginia Woolf : a language of looking.
The aim of this thesis is to trace a 'language of looking' in some of Virginia Woolfs
I have taken Woolfs short story entitled 'The Lady in the Looking-Glass: A Reflection'
as a point of departure and principle theme. This story provides models for a serious
questioning of the ways we look at women and how that looking deten»ines their
representation. In turn that representation is shown to structure and inform our ways of
Each paragraph of the story is taken as a starting point for a chapter of the thesis. Thus,
each of the ten paragraphs of the story becomes, as it were, the epigraph of the chapter
that follows. Each chapter moves out from the specific problematics offered by 'The
Lady in the Looking-Glass: A Reflection' to other works by Woolf, and beyond.
My readings of 'The Lady in the Looking-Glass: A Reflection' show Woolf to be
exploring different ways of getting to 'know' the Lady, to ascertain her 'truth'. The
aptness and inadequacy of description, the giving of facts and the detail of imaginings,
the insights of perception and the blindness of rhetoric, are all revealed as the story and
the thesis unfold.
The ways in which a woman can be regarded, spoken of, but never 'truly' represented, is
examined. Each chapter focuses upon how, in consecutive paragraphs, Woolf attempts
to create a convincing character that can be caught and turned to words. The very
difficulties of representation are seen to be written into Woolfs text as the narrative
moves from one speculative moment to another.
In order to explore the issues raised in the short story I engage with other of Woolfs
writings. Using close readings of her work, psychoanalytic concepts, critical writings,
Surrealist thought and photographic model, I work to show just how vital are the 'signs'
of looking in Woolf's texts.Finally the failures of language are realised as I look at how Woolfs awareness of the
complexities and nuances of the visual demonstrates a negative, self-destructive impulse
as well as a positive, life-enhancing moment of becoming.
Woolfs search for the best words with which to portray the Lady of her story is echoed
by my own struggle to find the right words with which to reveal the intricate network of
'looks' that adds yet another dimension to the enigmatic and challenging works of the
Lady we know as Virginia Woolf.